Having a free press and a healthy democracy come hand in hand. The two ideals are heavily intertwined and co-dependent.
Although coined by former Australian Democrats leader Don Chipp, the Australian adage of ‘keeping the bastards honest’ springs to mind when thinking about the ideals of journalism.
The influence of technology on media and, in turn, democracy throughout modern history has been transformative, completely changing the dissemination of information and the public debate for better and for worse.
While information is now literally at our fingertips in Australia in 2020, the need for trusted media sources, and for each of us to play our part as informed consumers of news, given the proliferation of content, is more important than ever.
That’s where MoAD comes in, with their new permanent exhibition Truth, Power and a Free Press.
Launched in November 2019, the exhibition stresses the importance of trusted media sources in a modern democracy, while bringing together powerful stories and objects that span the history of media in Australia.
MoAD Head of exhibitions, content and learning, Michael Evans, tells Canberra Weekly the exhibition is part of a conversation about media and the broader issues affecting our healthy democracy.
“You need to have facts, we need to have information available to everybody,” he says.
“If you go back to the 19th Century and even the early 20th Century, a lot of what newspapers would do is report word for word what was said in parliament.
“We don’t do that so much now because we don’t need to, but we still need to agree on facts … A lot of problems come about because there’s less clarity between what is fact and what’s opinion.
“Pulling against that is the fact that a free press is about opinion. If we only had one voice saying ‘this is the truth’, that’s big brother.
“You want a variety of opinion … which is why concentration of ownership is a risk,” he says.
As part of this exhibition, MoAD partnered with SBS to develop an immersive 7-foot tall audio-visual display that allows visitors to hear the first-hand experiences of 12 high profile Australian journalists discussing the pressures they’ve faced in their line of work.
“The media in general are aware of the threats and problems that are facing free media in Australia; they were all keen to be involved and very supportive of this,” Evans adds.
Truth, Power and a Free Press also lays bare the technological evolution of Australia’s media, with items ranging from a mid-19th Century printing press brought out from the UK for Sir Henry Parkes, to the latest iPhones.
The most visceral and immersive way in which media’s technological evolution is showcased is by a rather spectacular time warp.
Visitors are able to experience the Old Parliament House ABC studio, which has been restored to appear exactly how it did back in 1988.
Featuring 1980s-era tech like video cassettes, cameras, recording devices, a record player, and (gasp) hand-written notes in an office space so retro you can almost smell the wafting cigarette smoke, you’re transported back to an analogue world and reminded of the vital role Old Parliament House played in the dissemination of political information for much of the 20th Century.
Truth, Power, and a Free Press is a permanent exhibition on display at MoAD; moadoph.gov.au/truth